Genre (noun): a recurring social action involving a literate form (e.g., a review of a book, an analysis of a policy); a recurring type or category of text; a system of classification
applied to written texts (literature, academic prose, business writing, etc.) and non-written forms of communication (film, music, television programs, etc.), which is defined by common formal, thematic,
and contextual criteria. Everyday genres in popular culture include, for instance, the detective novel, the spy film, classical music, and reality TV.
As a genre, academic writing across many disciplines adheres to such generic criteria as:
- The use of non-narrative prose to express ideas and arguments;
- The organization of the text around a core argument, thesis, main point or question;
- The aim to persuade the audience using appropriate evidence, presented and/or cited within the text;
- The aim to inform the audience using specific data and/or information, presented and/or cited within the text;
- A three-part rhetorical appeal to the audience consisting of establishing 1) the credibility of the writer (ethos), 2) the logic of the argument (logos), and 3) the emotional or affective aspects of the topic (pathos);
- The use of elevated tone (relative formality and absence of slang or familiarity: the author, situated at a distance from the text, addresses an assumed academic audience);
- Clear, precise diction (carefully chosen words); and
- Discipline-specific and dense (meaning-laden) terms (referred to, in a pejorative sense, as “jargon”).
Much academic writing can be generically classified as formal academic prose. It is important to learn the appropriate generic criteria which define lucid academic writing in particular disciplines in order to develop
and demonstrate the ability to express complex ideas in clear written form. Learning and exercising generic criteria will also enable you to participate in the academic community by articulating your ideas via the shared
conventions of scholarly writing.
One way to learn the defining generic features of formal academic prose is to read widely both within your discipline and across disciplines. Take a look at journal articles and books from several fields to see what this
scholarly writing has in common and on what points it differs; note the rhetorical moves that make texts clear and accessible; note which moves are permissible or absent. In your own writing and revision processes,
make a point of imitating the rhetorical strategies that you have admired and appreciated as a reader of academic writing.
See also “assignment type,” “conventions,” “form” and “organizing structures.”